THE MOST DANGEROUS PHASE BEGINS: TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH MAR. 24, 2019

[NOTE: On Mar. 27, 2019, this post appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts.]

As Trump tweets false claims of “EXONERATION,” the nation is entering the most dangerous phase of the Trump-Russia story. Beware of headlines and sound bites surrounding Attorney General William Barr’s summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. In the language of baseball, the Trump-Russia saga has just entered the middle innings.

Even before Mueller’s appointment, Trump tried to frustrate the investigation into his presidential campaign. As Attorney General William Barr describes the potential obstruction of justice charge against Trump, “The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.’”

So the question remains: Why did Trump do it?

Facts Still Matter

The Trump-Russia Timeline first appeared three months before Trump fired James Comey, which is what led to Mueller’s appointment. From the outset, its purpose was to provide a vehicle for organizing and accessing undisputed facts, allowing citizens to pierce through the fog of Trump’s ongoing lies, diversions, distractions, and chaos.

Although Mueller has now come and gone, federal investigations that he referred to US attorneys across the country continue. In the coming weeks and months, trials, congressional investigations, and state inquiries will proceed as the story unfolds on core Trump-Russia topics that Barr’s summary doesn’t even mention. They include Trump Tower-Moscow negotiations with Russian bankers and developers during the campaign, the relationship between Russia’s assistance in Trump’s election and Putin’s search for relief from US sanctions, secret backchannels with Putin, and more.

The public’s understanding of the scandal is woefully incomplete. And make no mistake: Even Barr’s summary effort to exonerate Trump confirms that it’s a scandal of unprecedented scope.

“It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over”

Prominent former Trump confidants and campaign officials are now convicted felons. Trump’s defenders emphasize that many were prosecuted for lying to federal investigators, so their crimes have nothing to do with Trump. But what were they lying about? Trump-Russia contacts.

Trump loyalists also boast that many high-profile targets in Trump’s inner circle weren’t indicted — a remarkably shallow victory. But consider what the reaction would have been if all of Mueller’s federal charges against these 34 individuals and three companies had landed on the same day his report went to Attorney General William Barr:

  • Trump’s former campaign chairman (Paul Manafort — convicted; sentenced to 7.5 years in prison)
  • Trump’s deputy campaign chairman (Rick Gates — pled guilty; agreed to cooperate)
  • Trump’s national security adviser (Mike Flynn — pled guilty; agreed to cooperate)
  • Trump’s personal attorney (Michael Cohen — pled guilty; cooperating)
  • Trump’s foreign policy adviser (George Papadopoulos — pled guilty)
  • Trump’s long time friend and campaign surrogate (Roger Stone — trial pending)
  • Dozens of Russian officials, citizens, and entities who helped Trump win the election by hacking into Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign emails, by using WikiLeaks to disseminate them, and by relying on fake social media accounts to divide Americans (trials pending).

Keep all of that in mind as Trump and his defenders spin the Trump-Russia story as a hoax or a witch hunt.

Avoiding Trump Fatigue

As Trump battles to save his presidency and, perhaps, his post-presidential freedom, the spin will become overwhelming. It will make the struggle to keep track of important Trump-Russia developments more difficult. No one knows where the trail of truth will lead, but with the 2020 election on the horizon, the burden now falls on every American to follow it to the end.

As Benjamin Franklin emerged from the Constitutional Convention of 1787, someone asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”

Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Now is the moment Franklin had in mind.

Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline:

FEB. 19, 2019: Trump Announces Intent to Nominate Rosenstein’s Replacement (revision of previous entry)

JUL. 18, 2017: Mueller Gets Search Warrant On Cohen

MAR. 18, 2019: Trump Tweets Fox News Clips Attacking ‘Russia Hoax’ 

MAR. 20, 2019: White House Stonewalling House Oversight Committee

MAR. 20, 2019: Trump Attacks Comey, Clinton

MAR. 22, 2019: Mueller Submits Report to Bar

MAR 24, 2019: Barr Issues Summary of Mueller Report

MAY 24, 2019: Trump Claims ‘Total Exoneration’

THE STRANGE CASE OF LINDSEY GRAHAM: TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH MAR. 18, 2019

[NOTE: On Mar. 20, 2019, this post appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts.]

Last week, the House unanimously passed a non-binding resolution calling for the public release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. When the measure reached the Senate floor, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) blocked it — and thereby completed his curious journey from outspoken Trump critic to unabashed sycophant.

Not So Long Ago…

Back on MAY 3, 2016, Graham tweeted:

And after Trump won the election, Graham urged a thorough search for the truth about Russia’s role. Consider these entries from the Trump-Russia Timeline: 

JAN. 8, 2017: Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Graham says, “You asked me what should we do. We should get to bottom of all things Russia when it came to the 2016 — “

Chuck Todd: “Period.”

Graham: “— election. Period.”

Todd: “Wherever it leads.”

Graham: “Yeah, wherever it leads in whatever form.”

He adds, “Here’s what I think we should do as a nation. We should all, Republicans, Democrats, condemn Russia for what they did. To my Republican friends who are gleeful, you’re making a huge mistake.”

FEB. 8, 2017: Graham co-authors bipartisan legislation that would prevent Trump from lifting Russian sanctions unilaterally.

FEB. 15, 2017: Graham calls for a broader bipartisan probe if any “preliminary investigation” shows that Trump’s campaign communicated with Russians in the year leading up to the 2016 election: “If there’s contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence officials outside the norm, that’s not only big league bad, that’s a game changer.”

JULY 9, 2017: On NBC’s Meet the Press,Graham calls Trump’s recent meeting with Vladimir Putin “disastrous,” saying, “[W]hen it comes to Russia, he’s got a blind spot. And to forgive and forget when it comes to Putin regarding cyber-attacks is to empower Putin and that’s exactly what he’s doing.”

AUG. 3, 2017: Graham co-authors bipartisan legislation to protect Mueller.

OCT. 22, 2017: Graham reiterates that Trump has a puzzling “blind spot” on Russia.

But Something Happened…

Then Graham reverses course and embraces Trump’s Russia investigation strategy: divert, distract, and obfuscate.

DEC. 8, 2017: In a series of tweets, Graham calls for a new special counsel to investigate “Clinton email scandal, Uranium One, role of Fusion GPS, and FBI and DOJ bias during 2016 campaign. I will be challenging Rs and Ds on Senate Judiciary Committee to support a Special Counsel to investigate ALL THINGS 2016 — not just Trump and Russia.”

MAR. 15, 2018: Graham joins three other GOP senators in asking the Department of Justice to appoint a second special counsel to investigate the FBI’s use of the “Steele dossier” in obtaining a FISA warrant against Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

SEPT. 13, 2018: Graham says he will renew his call for a second special counsel to investigate allegations of anti-Trump bias at the Department of Justice and the FBI.

NOV. 18, 2018: On NBC’s Meet the Press, Graham says, “I am suggesting that the people in the Department of Justice and FBI, in the early stages of the Russia investigation, the dossier was used to get a FISA warrant that I think was very inappropriate. There seems to be some political bias about how the Clinton email investigation was handled. We need to get to the bottom of all that.”

DEC. 10, 2018: On Sean Hannity’s program, Graham says, “We should have had a special counsel appointed a long time ago to look at all things Clinton.”

MAR. 14, 2019:  Blocking Senate consideration of the resolution to make Mueller’s report public, Graham wants lawmakers to request that Attorney General William Barr appoint a second special counsel “to investigate Department of Justice misconduct” during federal investigations of Trump’s alleged Russia ties and Hillary Clinton’s emails.

And Now Trump Has Destroyed Graham

For the legal profession, Graham’s about-face is particularly distressing. He has a law degree (JD, Univ. of South Carolina, ’81). He understands the importance of the rule of law and the critical responsibility of every attorney to defend it. And he knows that when Trump undermines the rule of law, he threatens democracy itself.

If the Trump-Russia scandal produces a dark side counterpoint to Profiles in Courage, historians will write an interesting chapter on Lindsey Graham. When it comes to Trump-Russia, the obvious explanations for his stunning reversal — greed, ambition, and hypocrisy — just don’t seem sufficient.

Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline:

DEC. 9, 2016: McCain Delivers ‘Steele Dossier’ to FBI Director Comey (revision of previous entry)

JAN. 8, 2017: Graham and McCain Call for Thorough Trump-Russia Investigation

FEB. 8, 2017: Senators Propose Bill Banning Trump From Lifting Russia Sanctions (date revision of previous entry)

FEB. 15, 2017: Graham: Any Contacts Between Russian Intelligence and Trump Campaign Is a ‘Game Changer’

JULY 9, 2017: Graham Says Trump Has a ‘Blind Spot’ on Russia

DEC. 8, 2017: Graham Calls For Broader Investigations of Clinton, DOJ, FBI During 2016 Campaign

MAR. 15, 2018: GOP Senators Request Second Special Counsel to Investigate FBI’s Use of ‘Steele Dossier

SEPT. 13, 2018: Graham Renews Call For Second Special Counsel

NOV. 18, 2018: Graham Claims DOJ/FBI Bias Against Trump

DEC. 10, 2018: Graham Says Second Special Counsel Should Have Been Appointed to Investigate ‘All Things Clinton’

MAR. 12 2019: Trump Tweets ‘Presidential Harassers’, ‘Witch Hunt’, ‘Witch Hunt Hoax’; Retweets Republicans’ Attacks on Simpson, Schiff, Cohen, Steeler Dossier

MAR. 12, 2019: Lisa Page Transcript Released

MAR. 13, 2019: Trump Attacks Lisa Page, FBI, Comey, NY Attorney General Letitia James

MAR. 13, 2019: DC Judge Brings Manafort’s Total Prison Term to 7.5 Years, Rejects ‘No Collusion’ Mantra; Manafort’s Lawyer Lies About Judge’s Remarks

MAR. 13, 2019: NY District Attorney Announces State Charges Against Manafort

MAR. 13, 2019: Flynn Cooperation Essentially Complete

MAR. 14, 2019: Trump Attacks House Democrats Investigating Him

MAR. 14, 2019: Graham Blocks Resolution on Mueller Report

MAR. 14, 2019: Stone Trial Date Set for Nov. 5

MAR. 15, 2019: Trump Attacks FBI, DOJ, Strzok, McCabe, Mueller’s Appointment

MAR. 15, 2019: Gates Sentencing Delayed

MAR. 15, 2019: Deripaska Sues Over US Sanctions

MAR. 16, 2019: Trump Tweets About Releasing Mueller Report, Fox News Clips Attacking FBI, Steele Dossier; Retweets Prior Attacks

MAR. 17, 2019: Trump Lies About ‘Steele Dossier’; Retweets Criticism of McCain, Article Attacking Mueller Prosecutor

 

“AN OTHERWISE BLAMELESS LIFE” WITH “BLOOD MONEY”: TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH MAR. 11, 2019

[NOTE: On Mar. 12, 2019, this post appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts.]

Judge T.S. Ellis III thought he faced a dilemma. A jury in his Virginia courtroom had found Paul Manafort guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud; a single holdout prevented conviction on the remaining 10 counts. After his conviction, Manafort refused to accept responsibility and showed no remorse for his crimes. And the federal sentencing guidelines called for 19.5 to 24 years of incarceration.

The problem, according to Ellis, was that Manafort “has led an otherwise blameless life.” So he reduced Manafort’s sentence to 47 months — nine of which he has already served because Judge Amy Berman Jackson revoked his bail for witness tampering in the DC case pending against him.

Om March 13, Manafort faces Judge Jackson for sentencing. From the Trump-Russia Timeline, here are a few highlights of the confessed convict’s life that she sees:

APRIL 11, 2016: Manafort owes millions to Vladimir Putin’s ally, oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Manafort’s liaison to Deripaska is Russian-Ukrainian Konstantin Kilimnik who, according to the FBI, has ties to Russian intelligence. Referring to his new status at the top of the Trump campaign, Manafort sends Kilimnik a message: “How do we use to get whole?”

JULY 7, 2016: Through Kilimnik, Manafort offers private briefings on the US presidential campaign to Deripaska.

AUG. 2, 2016: Manafort meets with Kilimnik in Manhattan where they discuss a proposed Ukrainian “peace plan” that would lift US sanctions against Russia. Manafort also provides Kilimnik with private polling data relating to the US presidential campaign.

JUNE 15, 2018: Judge Jackson revokes Manafort’s bail after he engages in witness tampering.

SEPT. 14, 2018: Manafort pleads guilty to criminal conspiracy against the US and obstruction of justice, and he agrees to cooperate with prosecutors. Then he lies to them. Judge Jackson rules that Manafort’s false statements “center around the defendant’s relationship or communications… a topic at the undisputed core of the Office of Special Counsel’s investigation into… any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign.’”

As for Manafort’s life prior to the Trump campaign, The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer recites that Manafort:

— “Helped Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos bolster his image in Washington after he assassinated his primary political opponent.”

— “Worked to keep arms flowing to the Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi, a monstrous leader bankrolled by the apartheid government in South Africa. While Manafort helped portray his client as an anti-communist ‘freedom fighter,’ Savimbi’s army planted millions of land mines in peasant fields, resulting in 15,000 amputees.”

— “Spent a decade as the chief political adviser to a clique of former gangsters in Ukraine… This was a group closely allied with the Kremlin, and Manafort masterminded its rise to power — thereby enabling Ukraine’s slide into Vladimir Putin’s orbit.”

— “Produced a public-relations campaign to convince Washington that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was acting within his democratic rights and duties when he imprisoned his most compelling rival for power.”

— “Stood mute as Yanukovych’s police killed 130 protesters in the Maidan [demonstrations in Kiev].”

A year after those killings, one of Manafort’s daughters sent a text message to her sister, saying that their father “had no moral or legal compass.”

“Don’t fool yourself,” Andrea wrote in March 2015. “That money we have is blood money. You know he has killed people in Ukraine? Knowingly. As a tactic to outrage the world and get focus on Ukraine. Remember when there were all those deaths taking place. A while back. About a year ago. Revolts and what not. Do you know whose strategy that was to cause that, to send those people out and get them slaughtered.”

As observer might reasonably ask what a blame-filled life looks like to Judge Ellis.

Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline:

NOV. 22, 2017: Sessions Pursues House Members’ Request to Consider Second Special Counsel to Investigate Clinton

NOV. 30, 2017: Prince Testifies Before House Intelligence Committee; Later Statements Raise Questions About His Truthfulness (revision of previous entry)

MAR. 4, 2019: Stone Pressed on Potential Violation of Court’s Gag Order

MAR. 4, 2019: Nadler Issues Document Requests 

MAR. 4, 2019: Trump Attacks: Democrats, Nadler, Schiff, and Clinton, claiming ‘No Collusion’, ‘PRESIDENTIAL HARRASSMENT’, and McCarthyism

MAR. 5, 2019: Trump Attacks Nadler, Schiff, Clinton, ‘PRESIDENTIAL HARRASSMENT’

MAR. 5, 2019: Coordinated Resistance to Nadler’s Requests Begins

MAR. 5, 2019: Mueller Rebuts Manafort’s Sentencing Memo

MAR. 5, 2019:  Judge Blasts Stone

MAR. 6, 2019: Trump Tweets Attack Democratic Investigators

MAR. 6, 2019: US Treasury Extends Deadline for Sanctions Against Another Deripaska Company

MAR. 7, 2019: Trump Tweets: Denies Campaign Finance Violations, Attacks Cohen

MAR. 7, 2019: Manafort Sentenced in Virginia; Attorney Says ‘No Collusion With Any Government Official or Russia’

MAR. 8, 2019: Trump Tweets: ‘PRESIDENTIAL HARRASSMENT’, Manafort Judge Said ‘No Collusion’, Attacks Cohen; Retweets Supporter Attacking Clinton, ‘Russia colluision hoax’, Steele, Nadler, Cohen, Sessions, Ohr

MAR. 9, 2018: Trump Attacks Schiff; ‘Witch Hunt Continues’

MAR. 10, 2019: Trump Attacks Ohr, Steele, Simpson, Fusion, Schiff, Cohen, Clinton, Democrats, ‘Witch Hunt’ 

“KOMPROMAT” WORSE THAN CRIMES: TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH MAR. 4, 2019

[NOTE: On Mar. 5, 2019, this post appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts.]

The Russians call it “kompromat” — “compromising information collected for use in blackmailing, discrediting, or manipulating someone, typically for political purposes.” In the Trump-Russia scandal, kompromat boils down to a question of Vladimir Putin’s leverage over Donald Trump:

What does Putin know about Trump that the American people don’t?

Eventually, the counterintelligence prong of Mueller’s investigation should answer that question, but a partial answer is already apparent. Regardless of whether criminal charges or articles of impeachment result, the national security implications are profound. Michael Cohen’s testimony last week is a reminder that, well into Trump’s presidency, Putin held at least two sources of kompromat.

Kompromat: Trump Tower-Moscow

Throughout the 2016 campaign and beyond, Trump claimed repeatedly that he had “nothing to do with Russia.” But according to Cohen, Trump knew that Trump Tower-Moscow discussions continued into June 2016. So did Putin. And for two years, Putin knew that Trump was lying to the American people about it. Here are a few highlights from the Timeline:

May 2017: Michael Cohen meets with Trump and Trump’s lawyer in the Oval Office to discuss Cohen’s upcoming congressional appearances, according to Cohen’s Feb. 27, 2019 testimony.

Aug. 28-30, 2017:The Washington Post breaks the story that Trump Tower-Moscow negotiations continued during the 2016 campaign. But someone feeds the Post false information that the discussions ended in January 2016. In false statements to congressional investigators and the public, Cohen says that negotiations ended in January — after he’d sent an email to Dmitry Peskov (Putin’s personal spokesperson) and never received a response. Peskov corroborates Cohen’s account.

Sept. 19, 2017: Cohen issues another false statement to Congress and the public, saying that the Trump Tower-Moscow negotiations ended in January 2016.

Oct. 25, 2017: Cohen repeats the Trump Tower-Moscow lie to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Nov. 29, 2018: Pleading guilty to previous false statements, Cohen admits that efforts to develop Trump Tower-Moscow continued into June 2016.

Because the American people didn’t know the truth, Putin had kompromat relating to Trump Tower-Moscow for the first two years of Trump’s presidency.

Kompromat: Russian Contacts and Election Assistance

Throughout the 2016 campaign and beyond, Trump denied that his campaign had any contacts with Russia and resisted suggestions that Putin wanted him to win. Again, Cohen’s recent testimony, together with a few highlights from the Timeline, reveals what Putin knew and the American people didn’t:

June 9, 2016: Three Russians (including at least one with Kremlin connections) meet secretly with Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort at Trump Tower. They’re together because Russia has promised “dirt” on Hillary Clinton and wants to use it as part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

June 14, 2016: The Washington Post breaks the story that Russian government hackers have stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee. US intelligence agencies later determine that Russian military intelligence feeds the material to WikiLeaks. 

July 18 or 19, 2016: Cohen is in Trump’s office when Roger Stone calls, according to Cohen’s Feb. 27, 2019 testimony. Over the speakerphone, Stone tells Trump that he just got off the phone with WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, who says that within a couple of days there will be “a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” Trump’s response: “Wouldn’t that be great.”

July 22, 2016: As the Democratic National Convention begins, WikiLeaks releases its first tranche of stolen DNC emails. According to Mueller’s later indictment of Roger Stone, someone on Trump’s team directs a “senior Trump campaign official” to contact Stone about additional WikiLeaks releases.

July 27, 2016: At a press conference, Trump seeks Putin’s assistance in procuring Clinton’s emails: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” Later that day, Russian hackers make their first attempt to break into servers that Clinton’s personal office uses.

July 8, 2017: The New York Times breaks the story that on June 9, 2016, Trump’s most senior campaign advisers met “with a lawyer linked to Kremlin.”

For a year, the American people didn’t know the truth. That gave Putin kompromat on Trump relating to his campaign’s contacts with Russia and its knowledge that Putin wanted to help Trump win.

Does Putin possess other Trump secrets? We don’t know what we don’t know.

Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline:

NOVEMBER 2015 – JUNE 2016: Cohen Keeps Trump Informed of Trump Tower-Moscow Developments; Sater and Cohen Consider a Free $50 Million Penthouse for Putin (revision of previous entry)

JULY 18 or 19, 2016: Stone Tells Trump About Upcoming Wikileaks Release

JAN. 20, 2017: Kilimnik Attends Inaugural

MAY 2017: Cohen Meets With Trump and Trump’s Lawyer to Discuss Cohen’s Upcoming Congressional Testimony

SEPT. 15, 2017: Kushner Security Clearance Revised to ‘Interim’

SEPT. 19, 2017: Michael Cohen Issues False Statement on Trump Tower-Moscow (revision of previous entry)

OCT. 20, 2017: Cohen Senate Appearance Postponed (this previous entry is has been deleted)

OCT. 24, 2017: Cohen Appears Before House Intelligence Committee

OCT. 25, 2017: Cohen Testifies Before Senate Intelligence Committee

FEB. 23, 2018: Kushner Security Clearance Downgraded

SHORTLY PRIOR TO MAY 23, 2018: Trump Orders Kelly to Grant Kushner’s Security Clearance

NOV. 6, 2018: Election Day: US Blocks Russian Troll Farm; Rohrabacher Loses; Democrats Win House; Republicans Keep Senate (revision of previous entry)

FEB. 25, 2019: Manafort’s Attorneys File Sentencing Memo in DC Case

FEB. 26, 2019: Court Affirms Mueller’s Authority

FEB. 26-27, 2019: Gaetz Threatens Cohen

FEB. 26-27, 2019: Cohen Links Trump and Stone to Wikileaks

FEB. 27-28, 2019: Trump Tweets: Cohen ‘Is Lying to Reduce His Prison Time’

MAR. 1, 2019: Trump Attacks Cohen, ‘Witch Hunt’

MAR. 1, 2019: Manafort Seeks Leniency in VA Case

MAR. 2, 2019: Trump Continues Attack on Cohen

MAR 3, 2019: Trump Attacks Cohen, ‘Presidential Harrassment’, ‘Witch Hunt’, Democrats’ ‘Abuse of Power’

PUTIN AND TRUMP IN PLAIN SIGHT: TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE THROUGH FEB. 24, 2019

[NOTE: On Feb 27, 2019, this post appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts.]

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are operating together in plain sight. Their actions raise questions at the heart of the Trump-Russia scandal: What is the source of Putin’s leverage over Trump? And what is Trump receiving — or hoping to receive — as a reward?

The answers could explain why a brief new entry in the Trump-Russia Timeline may turn out to be among its most momentous, historically. It illustrates the ongoing global repercussions of Putin’s successful bet on Trump. And it focuses on Ukraine.

Sanctions

US policy with respect to Ukraine was one reason that Russia supported Trump’s election. Obtaining relief from economic sanctions— including those imposed after Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 — has been among Putin’s highest priorities. Apart from their impact on Russia’s international standing and domestic economy, Putin has taken them personally because they affect his own wealth and that of his oligarchs. Shortly after announcing his candidacy, Trump offered— in plain sight — to lift them.

At a town hall session on July 7, 2015, an audience member made her way to a microphone and asked Trump about US-Russia relations. Trump said that if he became president, “I don’t think you’d need the sanctions.” The audience member was Maria Butina, who was later convicted of being a Russian agent seeking to influence senior Republican leaders via the NRA.

For Trump, removing Russian sanctions is still a work in progress. He has done what he can to resist and minimize the newer penalties imposed on Russia for interference in the 2016 presidential election. But he’s also helping Putin win more significant prizes: Ukraine itself and the destruction of the Western alliance.

Undoing “Geopolitical Catastrophe”

In 2005, Putin called the breakup of the Soviet Union (which had included Ukraine), the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20thcentury. Now he’s trying to rebuild that empire. Trump has spent his first two years in office attacking the Western alliance that has been a bulwark against those Russian ambitions.

In January 2017, Trump blasted NATO as obsolete, saying, “We should trust Putin.” Heading into his first NATO summit in July 2018, Trump lashed out at Germany. Days later in Helsinki, he sided with Putin, who acknowledged in their joint press conference that he wanted Trump to win the 2016 election. In Ukraine, the world is seeing why.

Ukraine in Peril

As Trump weakened NATO, Putin became bolder. On Nov. 25, 2018, Russians again violated Ukraine’s sovereignty, this time by illegally blocking the Kerch Strait, the waterway between Russia and Crimea. Russians seized three Ukrainian vessels and detained 24 Ukrainian seamen. On Jan. 15, 2019, a Russian court ordered eight of those sailors to remain in custody until late April.

Meanwhile, beginning on Dec. 17, 2018, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, repeatedly pushed the unsubstantiated Kremlin line that Ukraine is planning acts of aggression. In response to that concocted threat, Putin has been moving ground forces and weaponry to Crimea. On Dec. 22, he added fighter jets to the mix. Also in the picture — literally, from satellite photos— are short-range nuclear-capable missiles within striking distance of war-torn eastern Ukraine.

And now add the latest Trump-Russia Timeline entry relating to Putin’s assault:

Feb. 21, 2019: “Russia Says It Won’t Let Ukraine Stage New Provocations.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his spokesperson say, again without evidence, that Ukraine is preparing another provocation in the Kerch Strait.

Russian rhetoric continues to look like a pretext for worse things to come. As Putin destabilizes the world order, Trump is helping him. The mortal peril facing Ukraine is becoming a vivid illustration of the consequences. And it’s all happening in plain sight.

Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline:

EARLY DECEMBER 2016: Russians Arrest Intelligence Officers and Cybersecurity Experts for Treason (revision of previous entry)

FEB. 14, 2017: Trump Considers Public Explanations for Flynn Resignation, Tells Christie ‘Russia Thing Is All Over’

FEB. 14, 2017: Spicer Denies Any Contacts Between Trump Campaign and Russia, Makes Numerous Misstatements at Press Briefing; White House Does Not Correct Record (revision of previous entry)

MAY 6-7, 2017: Trump Decides to Fire FBI Director Comey (revision of previous entry)

SHORTLY AFTER MAY 11, 2017: McCabe Opens Counterintelligence Investigation Into Trump, Briefs Congressional Leaders

MAY 17, 2017: Former FBI Director Robert Mueller Named Special Counsel, Assumes Control of Counterintelligence Investigation into Trump

OVER THE JULY 4, 2017 WEEKEND: Trump Calls Lewandowski About Sessions

JUL. 9, 2017: Trump Tweets About Forming Cyber Unit With Russia, Then Walks It Back 

JULY 27, 2017: House Republicans: ‘Time to Go Play Offense’; Demand Second Special Counsel

AUG. 15, 2017: Russian Claims He Hacked DNC for Russian Intelligence Agency

REVISED: JUL. 16, 2018: In Helsinki, Putin Pushes Cooperation on Cybersecurity; Trump Sides with Putin (revision of previous entry)

REVISED: DEC. 12, 2018: Cohen Sentenced to Three Years in Prison (revision of previous entry)

LATE 2018: NYT: Trump Asks Whitaker to Have US Attorney in NY ‘Put in Charge of Cohen Case

FEB. 14, 2019: Senate Confirms Barr as AG

FEB. 18, 2019: Trump Quotes Supporter: ‘Illegal Coup on the President’; Tweets About Senate Intelligence Committee, Sessions, McCabe, Rosenstein, ‘Treason!’, ‘Leakin’ James Comey’ (revision of previous entry)

FEB. 18, 2019: Stone Posts Photo of Judge in Crosshairs

FEB. 19, 2019: Trump Tweets: ‘Witch Hunt’

FEB. 19, 2019: Judge Orders Stone to Explain His Instagram Post

FEB. 19, 2019: Trump Tweets About Andrew and Jill McCabe

FEB. 19, 2019: Trump Announces Intent to Nominate Rosenstein’s Replacement

FEB. 20, 2019: Trump Retweets and Quotes Supporters Attacking McCabe; Attacks NYT

FEB. 20, 2019: Cohen to Testify Publicly Before House

FEB. 21, 2019: Rosenstein: ‘My Time as a Law Enforcement Official is Coming to an End’

FEB. 21, 2019: Russian Foreign Ministry: ‘Russia Won’t Let Ukraine Stage New Provocations’

FEB. 21, 2019: Judge Imposes Broad Gag Order on Stone

FEB. 22, 2019: Trump Tweets Burr’s Earlier Statement, ‘Witch Hunt’; Retweets Supporter ‘Desperate Farce’

FEB. 22, 2019: NY Prosecutors Preparing State Charges Against Manafort

FEB. 22, 2019: Russian Prosecutors Seek 20-Year Sentences For Former Cybersecurity Officer and Private-Sector Expert Charged With Treason

FEB. 22, 2019: Mueller Memo in DC Case: Federal Guidelines Equal 17 to 22 Years in Prison for Manafort

FEB. 23, 2019: Trump Quotes Supporter: ‘No Evidence’ That Trump Has Done Anything Wrong; Retweets Another Supporter: ‘Lawsuit to Expose Coup Against Trump’

FEB. 24, 2019: Trump Tweets That Clinton and DNC Colluded With Russia; Attacks Lisa Page and Strzok

MUELLER’S SENTENCING MEMO

[NOTE: On Feb 23, 2019, this post appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts.]

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s sentencing memo in Paul Manafort’s DC case opens with the observation that he takes no position on the prison term that Judge Jackson should impose. But he also argues that “Manafort presents many aggravating sentencing factors and no warranted mitigating factors” under the federal guidelines. Those guidelines produce a sentencing range of 210 to 262 months; however, the statutory maximum for the two counts on which he pled guilty is 10 years.

Manafort turns 70 on April 1. If he has been playing fast and loose with the legal system in the hope that Trump will reward him with a pardon, the stakes just got higher.

“Even after he purportedly agreed to cooperate with the government in September 2018,” Mueller says, “Manafort, as this court found, lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), this office, and the grand jury. His deceit, which is a fundamental component of the crimes of conviction and relevant conduct, extended to tax preparers, bookkeepers, banks, the Treasury Department, the Department of Justice National Security Division, the FBI, the Special Counsel’s Office, the grand jury, his own legal counsel, Members of Congress, and members of the executive branch of the United States government.”

And that’s just the introduction.

Mueller observes that Manafort’s breach of the plea agreement operates asymmetrically: It leaves his obligations under it intact — including the requirement that “he not would seek or suggest” a downward adjustment in the government’s estimated sentencing guideline range. But the breach relieves the government of its promise to seek leniency on his behalf. Mueller also notes that the court has the discretion to run all or a portion of its sentence consecutively to or concurrently with whatever sentence Manafort receives in Virginia, where federal guidelines on his crimes call for 19 to 24 years in prison.

There’s a forward looking message to others in Mueller’s brief: “The sentence in this case must take into account the gravity of [Manafort’s] conduct, and serve both to specifically deter Manafort and generally deter those who would commit a similar series of crimes.”

In response, Manafort’s lawyers will file his sentencing memo on Monday. Mueller’s written tour-de-force will be a tough act to follow.

Here’s a link to the 25-page memo and 800-page attachment.

JUDGE TO ROGER STONE: “YOUR APOLOGY RINGS QUITE HOLLOW”

[NOTE: On Feb 21, 2019, my post appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts.]

Roger Stone’s attorneys put him on the witness today to explain his Feb. 18 Instagram photo of the presiding judge in his case. It included crosshairs near her head.

Marked as Exhibit 1 of the hearing, the accompanying text accused “Deep State hitman Robert Mueller” of using “legal trickery” to guarantee that his “upcoming show trial is before Judge Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointed Judge who dismissed the Benghazi charges against Hillary Clinton and incarcerated Paul Manafort prior to his conviction for any crime.” But by the end of that day, the image was removed and, through his attorneys, Stone had filed an apology with the court:

“Please inform the Court that the photograph and comment today was improper and should not have been posted. I had no intention of disrespecting the Court and humbly apologize to the Court for the transgression.”

The following morning, Judge Jackson ordered today’s hearing at which Stone was required show cause why the court’s previous media contact order in the case and/or the conditions of release should not be modified or revoked.

Putting any criminal defendant on the witness stand is risky, in part because it waives the defendant’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. But with respect to the gag order, Stone’s signed apology (transmitted through his lawyers’ unusual “Notice of Apology”) probably waived that right anyway. Another risk is that, after taking the stand, the defendant might lie and create new, independent criminal exposure to perjury charges. In any event, Stone’s Instagram post had placed him in danger of pre-trial incarceration, leaving him and his attorneys few options.

So after swearing to tell the truth, Stone reiterated his apology, using phrases that included: “I am kicking myself over my own stupidity… I offer no excuse for it… This is just a stupid lapse in judgment…[I]t was an egregious mistake.” Stone claimed that he was under stress and having trouble putting food on his table and paying his rent.

In response to the judge’s questions, Stone admitted that he posted the offending image. But he said that he has five or six volunteers, and couldn’t say who chose it, who sent him the image, or whether it was sent via text or email. In response to questions about his social media operation, Stone suggested that someone else may have used his phone to find the photo: “I do not exclusively use my own phone, that’s what I’m saying.” Stone also named four of his volunteers, saying that he couldn’t recall the names of all volunteers working for him a few days ago.

An attorney in special counsel Robert Mueller’s office asked, “You can’t remember the people who worked for you four days ago?”

Stone responded,  “No.”

Judge Jackson observed that Stone has insisted that his name be in the media every day since his arrest. Even after apologizing, he continued talking every single day. She asked Stone’s attorney, “Why won’t this happen in the future?”

“Sometimes a person learns a lesson, especially when a person is unrestrained in his speaking,” the lawyer answered. “It’s indefensible.”

“I agree with you there,” the judge said.

The government’s attorney argued for a stricter gag order, saying that Stone’s testimony was not credible. “That he committed a lapse in judgment is belied by the fact that even after he realized the post was a mistake, he continued to make statements to the media that amplified that message.”

After a recess, the judge returned with her ruling. She said that Stone has decided to pursue a strategy of attacking others. The Instagram post had a “more sinister message” from Stone, who “fully understands the power of words and symbols.”

“Thank you,” the judge said, “but the apology rings quite hollow.” Finding his testimony not credible (“couldn’t keep his story straight on the stand”) and that his release under the current media contact order would pose a risk to the public, she ruled, “No, Mr. Stone, I’m not giving you another chance.”

The court could have concluded that Stone’s incitement to violence aimed at a federal judge was at least as dangerous to the judicial system as the witness tampering that caused her to jail Paul Manafort pending trial. In that respect, Judge Amy Jackson Berman gave Stone a break. She ordered that Roger Stone can no longer speak publicly about the case or any participants in it.

But the judge warned that next time would be worse:

“Today I gave you a second chance. This is not baseball, you don’t get a third chance.”